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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – June 18 - 25, 2004

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STATE

Bill would give superintendents more authority / State Journal-Register
Raising the battle cry for state tax reform / Champaign News-Gazette
Advances make a difference for children with vision loss / Chicago Tribune
State leaders meet again, claim they are close to reaching budget solution / Daily Chronicle
Will tort fund lawsuit open floodgates? / Quincy Herald-Whig
School funding group to give governor an 'F' / Daily Southtown
Blagojevich's Call Met with Optimism, Concern in Region / Southern Illinoisan
Why thousands of retired teachers could lose their health insurance / Daily Herald
Taking a different look at Ryan's sex scandal / Daily Southtown
State school chief critical in Joliet visit / Herald News
Unresolved budget puts school funding amount in question / DeKalb Daily Chronicle

NATIONAL

Federal folly / Daytona Beach News-Journal
Tough standards make good students / Pasadena Star News (CA)
Partnership opened on student testing / Boston Globe
Lawsuit: 4 schools unhealthy / Miami Herald
Vallejo schools to get $60 million bailout / San Francisco Chronicle
University is seeking to pull charter school's plug / St. Louis Post-Dispatch
DISD aims to prevent, not simply deter, student misconduct / Dallas Morning News

Gas Prices May Mean Fewer School Buses or Higher Fees / Los Angeles Times

Fitness Classes Fall Short in Many Schools, Panel Says / New York Times

District's $30 million art trove stirs debate / Philadelphia Inquirer

Parents take schools to task / USA Today
Paige: Federal law makes education accessible to all / Star Telegram (TX)
Report: 10 percent of high school teachers not 'highly qualified' / Newsday

Meeting NCLB mandate / Charlotte Observer (NC)
Federal education funds could be slashed in 2006 / Beauregard Daily News (LA)
School lunch bill handed to Bush / CNN.com
Professors: Some math teachers unprepared / Des Moines Register
School's woes mean vouchers for students / St. PetersburgTimes

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STATE

Bill would give superintendents more authority

By Adriana Colindres, State Capitol Buearu, State Journal-Register, 6/20/04

A proposed law to revamp the state's education system also aims to boost the responsibilities of regional school superintendents, who just a year ago were fighting to keep their jobs.

Portions of Senate Bill 3000, which would give the governor greater control over the State Board of Education, spell out extra duties for Illinois' 45 regional superintendents. At present, regional superintendents perform a variety of regulatory, professional development and school improvement tasks, such as certifying school bus drivers and inspecting school buildings.

The bill, an agreed measure hammered out last month by the governor and the four legislative caucuses, would grant regional superintendents additional authority. For instance, they would have the power to approve school calendars, and they would have an enhanced role in the teacher certification process.

Rep. Jerry Mitchell, R-Sterling, who helped negotiate the education bill, said he and other negotiators deliberately sought to increase the responsibilities of regional superintendents.

"Basically, we've really had no way to judge how effective the regional superintendents' offices have been across the state," Mitchell said. "That's been part of the problem with that office over time. Many people, including this sitting governor, have stated that they don't feel that the regional offices of education are needed. Our local superintendents tell us that they are."

Helen Tolan, regional superintendent for Sangamon County, said that regional delivery of educational services is "a good way to do things." She particularly supports a portion of the education legislation that would beef up the role of regional superintendents on teacher certification by authorizing them to review applicants' transcripts.

"I think it's a good fit," Tolan said.

State School Superintendent Robert Schiller said he does not agree that the education bill would increase the role of regional superintendents.

"I don't see it that way," Schiller said, adding that the bill raises some unresolved issues. As an example, he referred to the provisions on teacher certification.

"It takes about three to four months for someone to be trained on how to evaluate transcript by transcript," he said. "What has not been answered is: Where are they going to get the people or the resources to do this?"

In recent years, the regional superintendents' offices have come under fire, with some lawmakers and other officials asking whether they truly are necessary.

For instance, when Gov. Rod Blagojevich presented his first budget proposal in April 2003, he originally intended to chop $22 million in funding from the regional offices and their elected superintendents. At the time, he said, "this extra layer of administrators is a luxury we simply cannot afford."

Some legislators and the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools responded to the governor's plan by arguing that the regional superintendents' offices should not be abolished because they perform important duties.

"There's a certain amount of work that just has to get done," said Bruce Dennison, president of the regional superintendents group. "And if it doesn't get done in Springfield and it doesn't get done at the district level, then there's only one logical place that it can be done, and that is on a regional basis."

Dennison, the regional superintendent for Bureau, Henry and Stark counties, said the superintendents group and the Blagojevich administration reached an agreement last year that ensured restoration of some fiscal 2004 budget funds to the regional offices. Fiscal year 2004 started on July 1, 2003.

Another part of the agreement called upon the regional superintendents to develop a legislative plan by 2005 to reduce their numbers from 45 to 22, Dennison said. Such a plan has not surfaced yet.

Sen. George Shadid, D-Peoria, who has long questioned whether Illinois really needs regional superintendents, wondered last week whether that agreement remains in effect.

"I would have thought that maybe they would have put it in this year's budget to reduce the amount of them in half," Shadid said. "The big issue is are we going to reduce the amount of regional superintendents or not? And if we're not, then we should say so."

But a Blagojevich aide said Friday that the governor still wants to trim the number of regional superintendents.

"The regional superintendents do play a role in Senate Bill 3000. They have important responsibilities and new levels of accountability in the legislation," said spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch. "They are an important piece of this reshaping of the way education is administered in the state."

Even so, the agreement between the governor's office and the regional superintendents still applies, she said.

The most recent version of SB 3000 has been approved in the House but not in the Senate. Because of the ongoing budget impasse, lawmakers still have time to vote on that measure and others, including legislation that would shore up the retired teachers' health insurance program.

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Raising the battle cry for state tax reform

By Anne Cook, Champaign News-Gazette, June 20, 2004

URBANA – Farmers struggling financially in the 1980s were among the first to identify inequities in the tax structure supporting schools in Illinois.

Now there's a groundswell of support for making sweeping changes, and school officials – who face shortfalls in funding, a growing number of mandates and revenues limited by tax caps, untaxed public land and other factors – are leading the charge.

"It has snowballed," said Becky McCabe, principal of Urbana's Leal School and leader of a new Champaign County-based Coalition for School Funding Reform.

"Clearly the community cares deeply about education and funding reform and is eager to find a solution," McCabe said. "Parents have said it has to be a statewide effort, and legislators are starting to hear the noise out here."

State Sen. Rick Winkel, R-Urbana, said even though activists have tried unsuccessfully to push through changes in the school funding structure several times since the 1980s, the climate may be right now in Springfield for changes that include school funding because the state's overall budget picture is so bleak.

"The timing is right to change our tax structure," said Winkel of the financial situation in Springfield that's getting worse. "The reason we have recurring deficits is that the structural deficit is being ignored. We're talking about in the long run, spending is outpacing revenues."

Winkel is a co-sponsor of legislation now making the rounds in Springfield, HB 750 and two pending Senate amendments. He said the bill is an attempt to address wide-ranging financial concerns by eliminating the structural deficit and addressing education funding by swapping out property tax with income tax.

"We're talking about increasing income tax from 3 percent to 5 percent, but the bill's still a work in progress, and changes can be expected," Winkel said. "It's meant to generate debate. The property tax would be reduced by $2.5 billion statewide. It would provide more school funding fairness and decrease direct taxation on business so it can expand, and in the long run, that means more jobs."'

Ralph Martire is executive director of the Chicago-based Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, which has proposed a tax reform platform endorsed by the Urbana coalition and others in the states.

"No more complaints and vague principles," said Martire, who recently visited Leal to talk to local advocates. "We need to solve the problem. We have a problem because the state doesn't bear its fair share of the burden."

Illinois ranks 41st among the 50 states in state support for education, but Martire said that's not because the state's wasting money.

"About 39 percent of the budget is for education," he said. "About 24 percent's for Medicaid, 20 percent is spent on social services, 9 percent on public safety, 6 percent on administration and 2 percent's the rest. We're not wasting money."

He said critics who say the state should operate more like a business miss the point.

"In business, when revenue's down, demand's down, and you can fire employees, close some factories and cut expenses, and demand goes up," Martire said. "Government's the opposite. When revenue's down, demand's up. We can't say, 'Sorry, we're having a bad year, so we're not offering third grade this year.' We expect public services to be there even when times are bad."

The center proposes solutions that would include:

– Increasing personal income tax from 3 percent to 5 percent, putting Illinois and Mississippi in a tie for seventh-lowest tax rate nationally and generating $5 billion.

– Including retirement income in the personal income tax base for senior citizens whose income exceeds $75,000. That would generate $359 million.

– Increasing corporate income tax to 8 percent, generating $491 million.

– Expanding the sales tax base to include personal services, entertainment and consumer services like home cleaning, generating $900 million.

Property tax abatement is part of the package. Martire said with the new revenues, the state would pay each district at least 20 percent of the money it currently receives from property taxes, and that abatement would appear on taxpayers' bills.

He offered as an example an actual River Forest tax bill for $13,000, $10,000 of which goes to the schools. The bill the taxpayer would receive would be reduced to $11,000, and the state's contribution would be clearly spelled out.

The abatement could be greater in poorer districts, and affluent taxpayers would bear a greater share of the burden than those less well-off families, who would get tax credits for additional relief.

"We're one of the most reliant states on property tax," Martire said. "The quality of education depends on the affluence of the community, and the quality of education varies tremendously. Illinois was the only state in the country to get an F from Education Week for its school funding."

McCabe said she helped form the Urbana-based coalition after she met with members of a similar group in Bloomington-Normal.

She said Urbana is a dramatic example of why changes need to be made. Tax caps limit revenues, and so does the district's high percentage of properties in public hands and off tax rolls, properties owned chiefly by the University of Illinois and Carle Foundation Hospital.

As a result, McCabe said, Urbana has had to make deep cuts in services and education programs.

She said she's surprised at how many people have paid attention to the issues and want to see the needs addressed.

"I have more than 100 names on my e-mail list," she said. "They include members of the PTA, Democrats, Republicans, the League of Women Voters. They're across political lines. We have supporters from several different communities. A lot of people care deeply what happens in public schools. All we needed was something to hook onto.

"If we become another hotbed for change, it's only good for the kids."

McCabe said the Champaign County Farm Bureau is a "big supporter" of the coalition.

Dennis Vercler, director of news and communications for the Illinois Farm Bureau, said the organization and county affiliates have been promoting school funding changes for a long time.

"We've been working on this for 15 years," Vercler said. "In December 1987, the delegates to the Farm Bureau's annual meeting said we need to make it a top priority to establish a broader base for funding education, and the Farm Bureau needed to form coalitions with education and taxpayers' groups."

That early initiative was called "CHIEF," which stood for Changing How Illinois Education is Financed. It was proposed by Gibson City farmer Ron Warfield, who later became president of the Illinois Farm Bureau.

"It was a passion with him and Lin Warfel," Vercler said of another early campaign leader, Tolono's Warfel, who is now a member of the Parkland College board of trustees.

He said CHIEF became the "grandfather" of a family of reform proposals, including Martire's proposals.

"Concepts in place then are concepts used today by those who want change," Vercler said.

"The Farm Bureau leaders who started CHIEF were primarily motivated by education quality in rural areas, and they traced a direct link between overreliance on property tax and inequitable school funding," Vercler said. "The interesting thing is, everyone's come to the same conclusion."

Warfel served on Unit 7's school board for 10 years, and he said that experience gave him an education about funding issues.

"We were having steady challenges matching the district's income and expenses," he said. "We went through two cycles of bust and survival and busted again based on referendums that kept us from doing terrible things.

"What we did with CHIEF is change the discussion level considerably," Warfel said. "Back in the late '80s, few legislators viewed property tax as the real problem. We put together an alliance of more than 125 groups, we all sat down together and as a result of that, the Ikenberry Commission and EFAB, the discussion now starts from the point that overreliance on property tax is part of the roblem."The Ikenberry Commission in the 1990s, named for former University of Illinois President Stanley Ikenberry, was one attempt to convince the state Legislature to shift the tax burden for school funding, but no action resulted from the commission's recommendations. In 2002, members of the state-appointed Education Funding Advisory Board – or EFAB – came to the same conclusions and made other recommendations for changes that still haven't been enacted."No one gets tax policy entirely right in this country, but no one's as bad as Illinois," Martire said, but he also said he believes the time is right for action in Springfield.

"This isn't raising taxes," Martire said. "It's shifting the burden. (Gov. Rod) Blagojevich has said he's the education governor. He has said he won't raise taxes. I think it will be hard to walk away from this idea with its bipartisan support. Property tax has to be a component, especially in affluent communities. This proposal balances the portfolio."

Vercler of the Farm Bureau has concerns about Martire's corporate income tax increase proposal.

"We generally have concerns about the business climate in the state and the tendency to turn to business to raise revenue that could be raised through broader taxes," Vercler said. But he said the Farm Bureau's "not afraid to say we will support increases in income tax if it generates more money for education and a reduction in property taxes."

Winkel said he hopes action on the pending state legislation will come sooner rather than later.

"I expect to have a debate, and then we can continue to push this along," he said. "We've been talking about doing this for 60 years. It would make the system fairer and more sound, and we'd still be a low tax state. "

"The main stumbling block is the governor," Winkel said. "He refuses to consider structural changes. He wants to continue with one-time revenue fixes. As (House Speaker Michael) Madigan has said, and I agree with him, that bag of tricks is empty."

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Advances make a difference for children with vision loss

By Beth Finke, Special to the Tribune, June 20, 2004

Nine-year-old Anna Walsh entered her classroom, slapped a 3-inch thick Braille book on her desk, and announced, "I finished `Ramona's World'!"

Her classmates were unimpressed.

Unfazed, Anna continued. "My grandma didn't even know I was still awake." Slowly the din of Braille machines and talking electronics grew quiet. Anna fingered her talking watch. "I was up until 10:42 p.m.!" she concluded triumphantly.

The class cheered.

Anna, born blind, is one of eight south suburban children who attend classes in a resource room for the visually impaired in a Crestwood elementary school. Such children are benefiting from new technology, teaching methods and laws that have revolutionized the way visually impaired children are taught.

Thirty years ago, public school students who were blind were sent to state residential schools or bused to resource rooms -- like the one Anna attends at Nathan Hale Elementary School -- throughout their entire education.

The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, passed in 1975, created an option for blind or visually impaired children: enrolling in their neighborhood schools.

The law guarantees children with disabilities a free public education in the least restrictive environment appropriate for each child. Amendments made to the law in 1997 state that students who are blind or visually impaired should receive as much of their education as possible in a general education classroom following the regular curriculum.

Like Anna, Sandra Murillo started primary school attending a resource room for students with visual impairments. As she progressed, she was slowly phased into classes with her sighted peers. Now the 16-year-old honor student attends Thornwood High School in South Holland, where she finds her locker each day and negotiates the cafeteria line -- tray in one hand, white cane in the other.

Low numbers

Murillo -- like many others -- is the only blind student in her school. Illinois had 2,264 children enrolled in 2003-04 who met the legal definition of blindness, not including students attending private schools or those with multiple disabilities, said Barbara Perkis, director of the Illinois Instructional Materials Center for students with visual disabilities, in Chicago. Another 600 to 800 qualify as visually impaired, she said.

There were 3,909 deaf children, 28,363 children with mental retardation, and 139,582 children with learning disabilities enrolled in Illinois public schools in 2002-03, the latest school year for which figures are available, said Beth Hanselman, division supervisor for special education services for the Illinois State Board of Education.

Fewer than 33 universities in the country offer programs to train instructors who work with the visually impaired, said Mary Ann Siller, director of the American Foundation for the Blind's National Education Program, in Dallas. "There's a significant shortage of qualified teachers," she said. "The country currently needs at least an additional 5,000 teachers of students with visual impairments."

Those who work with the visually impaired include orientation and mobility instructors, who teach techniques for safe, independent travel, often using a white cane; and teachers who instruct students in Braille, keep them abreast of assistive technology, and provide materials to use in regular classrooms, such as Braille worksheets.

Northern Illinois University in DeKalb has a visual disabilities program that helps keep most of northern Illinois free from teacher shortages.

"There are vacancies now and then," said Jodi Sticken, orientation and mobility director at NIU. "But I would be very surprised to find out there are any visually impaired kids in northern Illinois who aren't getting vision services."

School districts in some Illinois cities, such as Chicago and Evanston, hire their own special education staff. Others form special education cooperatives with neighboring districts. Anna Walsh's home school district -- Prairie-Hills Elementary School District 144 in Markham -- and Sandra Murillo's district -- Thornton Township High Schools District 205 in South Holland -- are among 17 districts that contract with Exceptional Children Have Opportunities.

Teachers travel

The cooperative, known as ECHO,employs a team of vision specialists who travel among schools. ECHO staffs the resource room that Anna attends.

Chicago Public Schools has 10 resource rooms exclusively for the visually impaired. That number will decline to seven in the 2004-05 school year as more such children attend neighborhood schools, said Kathy Kinsey, vision coordinator for Chicago Public Schools.

"I think it's good for kids to be included -- it's wonderful to have the kids in neighborhood schools," Kinsey said.

Still, Kinsey said she can't imagine a time when resource programs are eliminated altogether.

Other school districts and cooperatives see it differently. The resource room for the North Suburban Special Education District, for example, serves children with all sorts of disabilities rather than just those who are blind.

Seven-year-old Alan Brint, blind from birth, spent his kindergarten year being bused from his Highland Park home to the district's resource room in Red Oak School, also in Highland Park. This year, however, the 1st grader walks to his neighborhood school with his brother Zacko, 10, a 4th grader.

"For Alan to be in that resource room with all these kids who need other help -- he never really fit into that," said Alan's mother, Betsy Brint.

Alan has a one-on-one aide at Indian Trails School in Highland Park and receives additional help from an itinerant Braille teacher, an orientation and mobility instructor and other specialists. Although Alan's mother is pleased with his education, she regrets that her son has so few opportunities to learn special skills alongside other children who are blind.

"I would never take him out of his home school," she said. "But I'd love to give him the opportunity to have some learning in that other environment as well."

The 1997 reauthorization of the federal disabilities education act requires that no matter where they go to school, all students who receive specialized instructional services because of a visual impairment must be taught Braille.

The House and Senate have passed versions of bills reauthorizing the law, but no talks have been scheduled on a final version of the bill. The Senate version, approved in mid-May, contains language that strengthens the wording requiring types of instruction for the blind and visually impaired, Sticken said.

The Illinois Instructional Materials Center provides Braille textbooks to Illinois students with visual disabilities. It is funded by the State Board of Education and located at the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind, 1850 W. Roosevelt Rd. It also provides Braillers, which are similar to upright typewriters and have six buttons the size of half dollars where the keyboard would be.

In addition, the center provides assistive technology and other special materials free to Illinois schools and agencies that educate the blind or visually impaired.

Just as computers and other technology have affected learning for sighted students, personal digital assistants, word processing and the Internet have changed the ways blind students do schoolwork.

Heavy machines less common

Years ago high school students who used Braille might have gone to class hoisting 16-pound Braille machines under their arms. Today the Braille notetakers students slip into their backpacks are smaller and lighter than laptop computers. Words are typed in Braille by manipulating the machine's six keys, and the work is checked either by listening to a speech synthesizer or by feeling a display that shows each line in Braille.

Students can emboss a Braille copy onto paper, print a copy in ink for the teacher, listen to electronic text downloaded from the Internet, cyber-chat with friends and do research on the Web.

"Braille notetakers have opened a new world for some of our students," said Mario Cortesi, a citywide itinerant special education teacher and assistive technology specialist for Chicago Public Schools. "But notetakers are complicated to learn. They're not for everyone. They require some sophistication in their use, and some decent cognitive ability. Usually it's the upper-grade or high school students who get them."

Murillo is one of those students. The technology practically eliminates barriers to her classes that rely on essays or stories, such as English or social studies.

In geometry, however, learning can be far more complicated. Using raised-line drawings to read graphics, push pins and rubber bands to form angles, and special paper and pens to create diagrams, Murillo has a 96 percent average in geometry so far.

"My textbook is 63 volumes," she said, opening one page of her Braille math book to demonstrate how big the raised-line drawings can be.

Beth Finke lost her sight at age 26. A Chicago resident, she is a writer and public speaker on topics that include the Americans with Disabilities Act, training with guide dogs and other issues concerning the blind.

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State leaders meet again, claim they are close to reaching budget solution

By Melanie Coffee, Associated Press Writer, Daily Chronicle 

CHICAGO - Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Illinois' four legislative leaders inched closer Friday to a resolution on the state budget, with the governor softening on his demand to increase education funding by $400 million. 

Blagojevich spokeswoman Cheryle Jackson acknowledged the governor might consider lowering his education proposal by $50 million if the other negotiators also agree to make compromises. 

"Whether or not he considers something different from his original proposal depends on how flexible others are," she said. "It's one thing among many that are on the table." 

House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, has led the opposition to Blagojevich's proposals to raise money by ending some business tax breaks and dipping into dozens of special-purpose government funds. Madigan has called for smaller increases - or none at all - in spending on education and health care for the poor. 

Madigan said Friday's meeting had been productive but gave little sign that he was willing to make concessions.  

"Most of the progress is coming with the governor realizing that you cannot borrow and spend money that the state does not have," Madigan said. 

Blagojevich and the four leaders met for nearly four hours in the governor's offices in Chicago, trying to break the stalemate on balancing a budget that has an estimated $2.3 billion deficit. Lawmakers are under pressure to reach an agreement on the spending plan before the new budget year starts July 1. 

Without a new budget, the state can't pay its employees or provide certain services. 

Blagojevich originally proposed a $54 billion state budget, including $1 billion more for education and Medicaid. Madigan and Republicans have said that plan depends too much on borrowing money. 

However, Blagojevich contended Friday that he could consider other methods of raising revenue. 

"I have always said that we had an open mind about how to pay for those priorities," Blagojevich said. 

The governor and the four leaders would not provide details on the progress made in Friday's meeting. 

But Jackson said that in addition to any other education increase, the governor and legislative leaders have agreed to provide $40 million to help school districts pay for new buildings. They have not yet settled on where that money would come from, however. 

She said there is still a gap of about $200 million between the spending and revenues that negotiators have agreed upon. 

"We're on track for a budget that will set the right kind of priorities and help the people of Illinois build better lives without the income tax or sales tax increase," Blagojevich said. 

David Dring, spokesman for House Republican leader Tom Cross, said the governor indicated he might be willing to scale back the education increase and put some of that money into programs that benefit Chicago's suburbs. Distributing the money through the general school aid formula, as Blagojevich had wanted, primarily helps downstate and Chicago schools. 

Cross, of Oswego, said Republicans' priorities were close to being met. 

"We want to see some cuts, we want modest spending, we want to take care of education's needs, we want to hold the line on taxes," he said. 

Blagojevich said he considered forcing lawmakers to return to Springfield by calling a special session on the budget, but decided that negotiations were making enough progress and that wasn't necessary. 

Associated Press writers Christopher Wills and Ryan Keith in Springfield contributed to this report.

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Will tort fund lawsuit open floodgates?

Phil Weber, Quincy Herald-Whig  

State education officials are worried that a threatened lawsuit against Quincy Public Schools could be a sign of things to come for other districts.  

Freeport attorney Robert K. Slattery said Wednesday that he plans to file a tax objection lawsuit against the school district on behalf of Quincy resident Jim Carlock, disputing the School Board's practice of paying a small portion of employee salaries from the tort fund.  

This, and a similar suit in Freeport, have some Illinois State Board of Education officials convinced that additional lawsuits against schools will pop up throughout the state because the school code is vague on how tort funds can be spent.  

"The school code doesn't explicitly prohibit that use," said Karen Craven, the ISBE director of public information. "It's a matter of interpretation by the school district. In the future, it will probably be subject to interpretation by the courts."  

Craven was unsure how many school districts use tort funds to help pay salaries, but she said it is probably a large number. Teachers and other school employees are often considered the first line of defense against accidents and injuries to students, so many districts began paying a small portion of their salaries — usually 2 to 5 percent — from their tort funds when the economy dipped about three years ago.  

About 80 percent of Illinois school districts faced deficit budgets this year.  

Slattery believes that as many as 250 school districts in Illinois could be using as much as $170 million from their tort funds to pay for risk management activities that he believes are not allowed under the code.  

If this spending is allowed to continue, Slattery contends, it will cause districts to further abuse the law under the guise of risk management.  

For example, he said some districts might choose to buy football helmets with tort money because helmets protect athletes from injury. Another district could buy new carpeting because the old floor covering was worn and could cause people to trip, he said.  

Slattery has legal action pending against the Freeport School District, the Pearl City School District, the Highland Community College District and the Freeport Park District. Ken Florey, a Chicago attorney representing Pearl City, said the case there is similar to the one facing Quincy and he believes the districts will be vindicated.  

"It's not a correct reading of the statute. Risk management includes safety expenses," such as paying employees for their contributions to the school's overall safety, Florey said. "School districts are, unfortunately, accidents waiting to happen. School employees spend a lot of their time preventing those accidents."  

If the lawsuits are successful, the districts could be forced to give the plaintiffs a refund equal to the portion of their tort levy tax bill that was improperly used. In Quincy's case, about $1.62 million of the $2.68 million tort levy was use in ways that Slattery said was improper.  

For the average Quincy homeowner, the refund would equal less than $100, minus Slattery's fee. But only residents who are named in the suit will be eligible to receive the refund.  

Slattery said he plans to file his lawsuit against Quincy in September, once all of the property tax payments are in.  

The Freeport case was supposed to be finalized last November, but was continued and will likely be resolved this fall. Quincy school attorney Dennis Gorman said he hopes it is wrapped up quickly so the Quincy School Board can have some idea on how to proceed and what to expect.  

"That case up there is far enough ahead of us that it will be decided and there will be some guidelines handed down," Gorman said. "If he loses, he'll appeal. And, certainly, if the school loses, they will appeal."

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School funding group to give governor an 'F'

Linda Lutton, Daily Southtown, 6/22/04 

Education funding reform advocates plan to rally outside Gov. Rod Blagojevich's Chicago office today, which is report-card pickup day in the Chicago Public Schools.

Fair Funding for Illinois Schools, a new parent group, plans to hand the governor a giant report card with a failing grade for fairness in school funding.  

Earlier this year, the national education journal Education Week gave Illinois the only "F" in the nation for equity in school funding.  

The rally comes as lawmakers and the governor wrangle over the state's budget, including funding for schools.  

Organizers will have a video camera on hand for parents and students to record messages to Blagojevich.  

Participants also will be able to grade their lawmakers. "We're suggesting that people write report cards with good grades on them to legislators who have been strong advocates of education," said Faith Spencer, an organizer.  

Spencer recommended giving high marks to supporters of a bill sponsored by state Sen. James Meeks of Chicago that would shift school funding away from property taxes by increasing the income tax. 

Spencer and others will turn in a petition signed by 3,500 people from more than 140 Illinois school districts that asks Blagojevich to "acknowledge that Illinois' system for funding public education is broken and needs to be fixed." 

Organizers will congregate between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. at the Thompson Center Plaza, 100 N. Randolph St.

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Blagojevich's Call Met with Optimism, Concern in Region / Southern Illinoisan

By Caleb Hale, Southern Illinoisan, 6/23/04

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS -- Good or bad?

Gov. Rod Blagojevich's call for a special legislative session, beginning today, is drumming up both optimism and concern among Southern Illinois officials.

With one full week separating Illinois from the beginning of the 2005 fiscal year, Springfield legislators have yet to pass a final budget. The governor and House Speaker Michael Madigan seem to be at odds over whether $200 million stays or gets pulled from various line items. That sum of money could include Southern Illinois projects and education funding.

Marion mayor Bob Butler said he has mixed feelings about the manner in which this year's state budget will play out.

"It sounds to me like the governor and the leaders of the congress have reached some sort of tentative agreement," he said. "Without knowing what the budget says, it's good. But there is a caveat, because anytime the government is in session the state is at risk."

Butler said it's anyone's guess as to how the budget will turn out, but he said it would help if the legislature passed a temporary increase to the state income tax.

"I don't know who's fault it is, but if they do the right thing and quit worrying about the votes, then everyone would be ahead of the game," he said.

One thing that remains in question for Marion concerns the state releasing funds for a widening of Illinois 13 between the city and Carterville. The $51 million project was announced as part of Blagojevich's "Opportunity Returns" plan. The project would widen Illinois 13 from four to six lanes.

Butler said it wouldn't be detrimental to the community if the funding for the project doesn't come this year. He said the people can live with the road the way it is a little longer if need be, but a workable budget is something that is needed now.

However, the World Shooting Complex, designated to be built in Sparta, is a project with a little more urgency attached, says Rep. Dan Reitz, D-Steeleville.

"We need the funding this year because of the contract we have with the Amateur Trapshooting Association," Reitz said.

The association will be holding a major competition at the yet-to-be-built trap shooting site in August 2006. Reitz said funding needs to be on time to make sure the project is finished by the competition, which he says could bring up to $35 million to the region, according to a study by the University of Illinois.

Reitz said he didn't expect coming to a final budget would be an easy task this year, nor does he expect next year's budget to be any easier.

The governor has spent the past couple of weeks stressing the importance that Illinois schools don't get short-changed in the final budget. While Madigan has been asking the state to trim back spending all around, Blagojevich has said he is not giving in when it comes to education.

Janet Ulrich, assistant regional superintendent for Union, Johnson, Pulaski, Alexander and Massac counties, said she is optimistic education will come out well by the end of the legislative session. She said it has been getting tougher for school boards and district superintendents to maintain programs for the last couple years.

Another cut from this year's budget would only create more hardship, she said. "I think it will affect the programs and each district is going to have to reassess how they want to spend the money," she said.

Jackson and Perry County Regional Superintendent Donald Brewer said anticipation of the final outcome may leave him a little worried about some of his school districts, but he is glad legislators might be zeroing in on a decision.

"Anytime they get together, something good might happen," Brewer said.

Southern Illinois University Carbondale Chancellor Walter Wendler is also waiting for the state's final budget. "It's been a difficult year, but I'm very pleased they're (legislators) are back talking," he said. "Communication is always good."

Wendler said he can only hope the state will approve what is essentially a "flat" budget for higher education, with no increases or decreases from last fiscal year.

The chancellor said more cuts in funding only means more tough decisions at the campus level. "It's going to force us to re-evaluate equipment purchases," Wendler said. "Dependent upon where the budget ends up, we may have to make some personnel decisions."

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Why thousands of retired teachers could lose their health insurance

John Patterson, Daily Herald State Government Editor, 6/24/04 

SPRINGFIELD - Nearly 42,000 retired teachers will lose their health insurance July 1 if state lawmakers and the governor don't take action in the next week. 

Medical coverage for those former teachers and an additional 8,000 of their dependents ends June 30 when the current benefits program expires. So far, lawmakers have not taken action to extend coverage, prompting frustration and fears throughout the education community. 

"With so many legislators facing re-election, we cannot imagine they will return to their districts without providing for continuation of health insurance for retired teachers," said John Day, spokesman for the state's Teachers' Retirement System. 

Yet, this is one of several high-profile issues stuck in political limbo as legislative leaders and Gov. Rod Blagojevich remain deadlocked over a state budget. 

Hoping to break the logjam, Blagojevich is calling lawmakers back to the Capitol today for a special session. Doing so also ensures they'll get $95 a day in meal and hotel money, a perk that disappeared when the General Assembly missed its May 31 deadline. The daily cost to taxpayers for lawmakers' lodging and food for the special session is $16,815 and tops $18,000 once mileage is added. 

Blagojevich defended the expense saying the amount "pales in comparison to all the other costs that are imposed on the taxpayers because this process has not been able to give the people of this state what they should get and what they ought to get and what we owe them, and that is a budget." 

But the special session is just for the budget. Many other issues, like retired teachers' insurance, remain on the table. Lawmakers also have not changed election law so President Bush can appear on the Illinois ballot in November. The divisive issue of how to address doctors' skyrocketing insurance premiums remains unresolved too. 

All this was supposed to have been decided by May 21, the deadline lawmakers set for their spring session. They missed that deadline and then the May 31 deadline as well. After that date, enacting a budget or anything else requires support from 60 percent of the House and Senate membership. That means Democrats must reach across the aisle for Republican votes to get anything done. 

Now lawmakers are on the verge of bumping up against the July 1 start of the state's next budget year. If the fiscal year starts without a budget in place, it could wreak havoc with state paychecks and payments to state vendors while possibly shutting state offices and historic attractions. 

Meanwhile, retired teachers sit and wait to see if they'll still have insurance. Teachers unions and other interested parties negotiated a deal to keep coverage in place and pay for it. But that deal was not approved before lawmakers left the Capitol earlier this month after it became clear a budget deal was not forthcoming. 

"It is alarming that something like this that everyone agrees to ... could be sidetracked by the fight over the budget," said Donna Baiocchi, executive director of the suburban education group ED-RED. 

Some lawmakers have grown increasingly frustrated at being shut out while legislative leaders and the governor meet behind closed doors in recent weeks with little progress. 

"They understand that the stakes are high and they ought to be able to negotiate some resolution to this," said state Sen. Susan Garrett, a Lake Forest Democrat. "If they don't, legislators such as myself are going to revolt. I personally am not going to stand by and watch this happen from a distance." 

Last week, the president of the Illinois Retired Teachers Association sent a letter to Blagojevich urging him to bring lawmakers back to the Capitol to make sure retired teachers are covered. 

"The health and welfare of 50,000 Illinoisans will be in jeopardy come June 30, 2004, without General Assembly action," association president Larry D. Roth said in the letter. "Without the extension ... these people will have nowhere to turn." 

Blagojevich was optimistic that a budget deal and other issues would be handled before July 1, and he didn't rule out calling additional special sessions to address non-budget issues if needed.

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Taking a different look at Ryan's sex scandal

Column by Phil Kadner, Daily Southtown, 6/24/04 

Sharon Voliva and Michelle Moses had a front-row seat at the Jack Ryan sex scandal on Tuesday.  

I mentioned the sex scandal to get your attention.  

People tend to stop reading when they hear about the issue Voliva and Moses were trying to bring to the public's attention: school funding.  

The two south suburban women, along with about 100 other people, were on the plaza of the Thompson Center in Chicago's Loop on Tuesday as part of a rally for public school funding reform.  

Jack Ryan, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, was also there.  

He had called a news conference to answer questions about allegations that he had taken his former wife, Jeri Ryan, to sex clubs.  

"We were setting up for the rally when we see all these TV news vans arriving," said Voliva, a resident of Dolton who has spent nearly a decade trying to get the state to pass school funding reform legislation.  

"We've never had so many reporters at one of our rallies," Voliva said. "We were all asking each other what we had done right this time."  

A security guard at the Thompson Center notified Voliva and the other education funding folks that Ryan was about to hold his own news conference.  

"Our main concern was whether we would be allowed to continue with our rally," Voliva said. "The security guard said we had the permit, and we were entitled to demonstrate."  

Tuesday was report card day in Chicago's public schools, and the school funding folks decided that would be a good time to issue the governor a report card.  

"We had this report card made up that was about 8 feet high," Voliva said. "It had Gov. Rod Blagojevich's name at the top and one grade on it, an 'F' for education funding equity.  

"That's the grade the state was given by Education Week magazine."  

As the rally started around 11 a.m., Voliva and the other members of the rally couldn't help noticing that the camera crews and reporters were just hanging around their trucks.  

"Not one of those people seemed interested in the rally," said Moses, a school board member in Oak Lawn Community High School District 229.  

Moses said several organizers of the rally went over to the reporters and asked them what they were doing.  

"They told us they were waiting for Jack Ryan to show up," Moses said. "So Sharon and some of the other women said since they were there anyway, why not cover the rally for school funding reform." 

Voliva said some of the TV and radio people politely refused her request.  

At least one Chicago newspaper columnist, however, said he had no interest in covering the event because he wanted his property tax money to stay in his community, Voliva said.  

"I told him that no matter what his personal views were he ought to be interested in covering the news, Voliva said. "He told me he just wasn't going to cover the rally because he didn't agree with our position."  

Most of the other reporters simply ignored the school funding folks, according to Voliva and Moses.  

Then Ryan arrived for his news conference.  

"They all gathered around him, and we were already chanting and shouting, so we just moved a little closer hoping to get some coverage," Voliva said.  

According to Voliva and Moses, the chanting got so loud that the reporters covering the Ryan news conference couldn't hear what he was saying.  

Ryan moved away a few steps.  

The school funding folks moved with him and kept chanting.  

"One radio reporter later called one of the organizers of our event and told her we were very rude because we had ruined her tape of the Ryan news conference," Voliva said.  

"When she got back to the studio, all of Ryan's comments were apparently inaudible."  

Voliva and Moses called me to ask the same question.  

Why is Jack Ryan's sex scandal, which didn't even involve sex, more important than school funding?  

"We're talking about the quality of education for thousands of schoolchildren in Illinois," Voliva said. "We're talking about school districts on the brink of bankruptcy in this state.  

"But we can never get the kind of news coverage that Jack Ryan did because he went to a sex club."  

The question actually is this:  

Is the public more interested in school funding or a juicy sex scandal?  

People often complain to me that the news media never focuses on the issues in political races. 

Well, there's usually a lot of information available, but people like to focus on the gossip.  

It's fun to talk about and doesn't require any thought.  

School funding is boring. And there are no easy answers.

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State school chief critical in Joliet visit

Tough on governor: Blagojevich sought control of education bureaucracy

By Ted Slowik, Herald News Staff Writer, 6/24/04

JOLIETThe state's top education administrator told a local audience on Wednesday that Gov. Rod Blagojevich wasted time trying to seize control of the Illinois State Board of Education instead of addressing a budget deficit.

"We lost about five months of honest debate. History will show it was a lost opportunity," state Superintendent Robert Schiller told a crowd of about 50 during a Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce and Industry luncheon at Harrah's casino.

Schiller said Blagojevich's failed attempt to create an education department under the governor's control proved to be unconstitutional, as Schiller had insisted all along. The move diverted attention from addressing the state's failure to adequately fund education and the disparity between rich and poor school districts, Schiller said.

While Blagojevich sought to overhaul education by streamlining administrative duties, the resulting Senate Bill 3000 would let governors replace seats on the nine-member state board of education and make other changes that some legislators have called "window dressing."

Schiller quoted Shakespeare's "Macbeth" to illustrate his point about Blagojevich's attention-grabbing tactics, citing a passage that reads, "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

"I won't say it was a tale told by an idiot," Schiller said, "(but) it was time that should have been spent focusing on the budget."

The governor and Legislature could reduce education funding's reliance on property taxes by increasing the state's income or sales taxes, the superintendent said. Instead, the prevailing sentiment in Springfield is to cut costs by reducing services, either in education or in health care, corrections or other social services.

"(Raising state taxes) is a difficult political act to undertake, particularly at a time when one is seeking election to political office," Schiller said.

Schiller said people should let their legislators know that they would support decisions that address the state's structural deficit, even if the choices seem politically unpopular.

"We can't afford to vote good legislators out of office because they do the right thing," Schiller said.

Illinois has exceptional state universities and many good public elementary and high schools, he said. Schools cannot improve unless the state reduces the burden on property owners, he said.

"We are at a critical junction that is going to affect education in Illinois for a long time," Schiller said. "Something's going to have to give. Either we continue cuts, or we raise new revenue. Education is at stake; the infrastructure of Illinois is at stake."

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Unresolved budget puts school funding amount in question

By Paul L. Mikolajczyk, DeKalb Daily Chronicle Staff Writer, 6/24/04

A pledge to increase state funding for public schools remains in limbo, and the amount may not be as large as promised by legislators debating Illinois' budget.

With the end of the fiscal year rapidly approaching, Gov. Rod Blagojevich recalled a special session of the Legislature to begin today and last until the General Assembly and the governor conclude their fight over the budget.

A victim of the fight could be the promised $250 increase in the per-student education foundation funding level set by the state, according to DeKalb County's lawmakers.

Illinois school districts are more likely to see a $100-$200 increase in the foundation level once the budget is approved, Sen. Brad Burzynski, R-Sycamore, told the Chronicle Wednesday.

Last year, the state set the funding level at $4,810. The state's public school districts received whatever portion of that amount, per student, that they couldn't cover with local revenues, largely money collected through local property taxes.

In the 2003-2004 budget, the Legislature provided a $250 raise in the foundation level. Many school districts have prepared their budgets for the '04-'05 year based on a similar increase.

Burzynski said he would like to see more funding for education but the state "has a lot of issues to deal with," specifically, trying to produce a balanced budget without increasing taxes.

"We'll be in a real pressure cooker," he said about the expected environment that lawmakers in the capital will face until a budget is approved.

Rep. Bob Pritchard, R-Hinckley, said that feedback he received from other state representatives also suggests that schools will get less than the $400 million the governor promised them during his State of the State address.

"This whole process should have been resolved months ago," he said, expressing his frustration with the failure of himself, fellow lawmakers and the governor to agree on a budget before the May 31 deadline passed.

Pritchard said that while both the House and the Senate have agreed on a plan to provide the $250 increase per student, the governor has not acted on it because of disagreements over where the money will come from.

While against sales tax and income tax increases, Pritchard told the Chronicle Wednesday that he remains especially opposed to fees collected by the state that he said are just another form of income tax.

He plans to fight the more than 200 new fees the governor has proposed while working to provide education funding for DeKalb County school districts' and other Illinois school districts' children.

A spokeswoman for the governor's office counters the claims that the additional $250 per student can't be provided in the 2005 budget.

"It's important to the governor for the state to increase education spending," said Abby Ottenhoff.

She said the governor has had discussions with the leaders of the General Assembly and is positive about the potential for an increase.

Ottenhoff made no mention of new fees to produce the money needed for education. Closing unfair tax loopholes and consolidating surpluses from dedicated state funds will help produce the funding, she said.

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NATIONAL

Federal folly

More flaws of No Child Left Behind Act

Daytona Beach News-Journal Editorial, June 22, 2004

This year, hundreds of Florida's A-rated and B-rated schools failed the federal measure of meeting "adequate yearly progress" for two consecutive years.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, that forces school districts to offer parents the opportunity to transfer their children out of those "inadequate" school.

While school districts must brace for the worst by setting aside funding for busing (as required by the federal act), parents are going to have a tough time figuring out what their options are under the complex law. "Choice," in this case, offers no guarantee that students will be better educated.

In Volusia County, the district technically could be forced to spend up to $2.6 million to bus pupils from about 30 elementary and middle schools that failed the federal measure. That's unlikely to happen, and administrators are anticipating that requests for transfer will amount to less than 5 percent of the 22,000 schoolchildren who are eligible. Yet, even that small percentage could force the district to shut down a summer program designed to help low-performing students.

The No Child Left Behind Act is so full of folly that it does more to confound parents than to inform them. It has done more to misdirect funds than to improve the quality of education. Reforms are badly needed.

Here are some of the reasons parents are confused:

Choice can be defined under the law by the local school district. Flagler County, which has only seven schools and fewer options, decided to limit choice to supplemental tutoring. Volusia County, with nearly 70 schools, is offering parents the option to transfer their children to other schools, along with tutoring and a host of other programs (public and private).

Under the law, parents cannot choose to transfer their children from any school not making AYP. Transfers can only occur from Title I schools (with higher levels of poverty). Nor can parents ask to transfer their children to any school. Their choices are only Title I schools that passed AYP or any non-Title I school, even if they failed AYP. Non-Title I students are not eligible for choice under the federal law. Further, the number of transfers is limited by law in each district.

Under another federal act, children with learning disabilities can apply for a special program only if they perform under grade level. Under NCLB, the schools these children attend cannot make AYP if any of the learning-disabled students perform under grade level. If a school fails to meet AYP because one or more learning-disabled students fail to perform at grade level, the whole school is labeled inadequate, and all schoolchildren are eligible for transfers.

Busing schoolchildren across district not only drains resources but could actually increase racial segregation in schools. It could also increase economic segregation.

The pass-or-fail format of the federal scoring means that schools that make 99 percent of the measures are still labeled inadequate. Scores do not recognize "learning gains" as do state test scores. Schoolchildren who increase their learning levels by, say, two school years but still perform below grade level are not recognized or rewarded.

Parents who choose to send their children to another school (public or private) are not guaranteed bus transportation beyond a year. Under the law, if the initial school makes AYP the following year, the bus funding is no longer required.

If improving student achievement is the goal, the No Child Left Behind Act has not worked. The absurd rationale that determines who can and cannot transfer demonstrates yet another of its failings. The law that confuses parents and reroutes spending away from public classrooms is in need of revision.

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Tough standards make good students

Pasadena Star News Editorial 

Last week's graduations and promotions throughout the region turned out some of the best-educated students in a very long time here in California.

Yet, some school board members want exemptions from the tough new federal education plan known as No Child Left Behind. They say the act will leave too many schools out of federal funding. Under the act, Schools must meet rigorous standards in a yearly assessment that leaves little room between pass and fail. We agree the act needs tweaking but overall, it's doing its job. 

We met with members of the California School Boards Association who want to tweak some provisions of the act, although they agree with the principle behind No Child. It's the doing that's difficult. Near impossible in some cases, they report. 

Readers already know we agree with those educators who say pupils with severe learning disabilities should be removed from the annual school scoring under the act while still being tested to gauge progress.  

Also, we believe the participation rate of 95 percent under the federal plan may be an unreachable bar in California where parents are allowed to keep their children out of testing. Association members said most schools could miss that absolute through absences on the day of testing as well. The state school board needs to rethink the parental opt-out rule. No Child scoring that determines Title 1 funding should take such variables into consideration. 

California has been making strides toward educational excellence through tough academic standards, state testing and set improvement goals enacted under Gov. Gray Davis. 

Association members argue federal education officials should compare the testing and allow states such as California to substitute state test scores in lieu of No Child's annual performance yardstick. Well, how about one or the other? We agree with association members who say we are fast approaching a school year of near-constant testing. 

However, we support much of the federal act, including testing students within subgroups to gain a better picture of how at-risk students such as those with limited-English proficiency and those from low socioeconomic populations progress. 

Also allowing parents to transfer their children from a low- performing school under the federal guidelines is a necessary component. 

While area districts have long given lip-service to similar state-mandated transfers, genuine school choice never materialized. Once the threat of school vouchers passed, so did districts' interest in allowing students to transfer. No Child makes good on that broken promise. 

The bone of contention seems to be that school districts must provide transportation for students who transfer. That may chafe, but the answer is clear: improve or make do without Title 1 funding. 

The association also wants to ax the best-qualified teacher rule. Seems to us, everyone should want the most qualified instructors in the classroom, especially in middle- and high- school math and science courses. School boards ought to be looking after the needs of students, not keeping underqualified teachers employed. 

We'd like to see federal education officials sit down with those in the trenches to gain a better understanding of the problems inherent in the one- size-fits-all aspect of the act. Revisiting the act ought not be out of the question if enough states believe it necessary. Overall, however, we give No Child Left Behind high marks.

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 Partnership opened on student testing

3 N.E. states join forces to obey law

James Vaznis, The Boston Globe  

Tight on money and the manpower to do it alone, three of New England's smallest states are developing common standardized tests in a first-of-a-kind partnership in the nation. 

New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont teamed up to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Act, a sweeping education law that requires annual testing of students in grades 3 through 8. 

Yet the three states also are among those nationwide that have questioned the costs of the act's stringent requirements. Fearful of funding any of the federal testing requirements, the New Hampshire Legislature cut $3 million from its state testing program last year, forcing the state Department of Education to eliminate the writing, science, and social studies components of its assessment tests this year. 

The three states, calling themselves the New England Compact, will try out the exams for reading and math in October and will test more than 208,000 students in grades 3 through 8 starting in December 2005. They have contracted with Measured Progress of Dover, N.H., for $33.4 million over the next six years. Rhode Island officials estimate they will save $5 million through the combined effort. New Hampshire and Vermont have not yet calculated an overall savings, but state education officials say they could reduce per-student testing costs from $22 to approximately $12. 

Peter McWalters, Rhode Island's education commissioner, said he believes other smaller states could join the consortium or start their own, particularly if they are in another geographic region of the country. However, he said he does not see a movement developing towards a single national test. States whose school-overhaul efforts hang on their testing system will not want to scrap them, McWalters said. 

Massachusetts, which requires students to pass its 10th-grade exam to receive a high school diploma, opted not to join the partnership. The state was farther ahead than the others in meeting the federal requirements, said Heidi Perlman, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Education. 

''We need to add a couple tests," she said. ''We're more than halfway there." 

The No Child Left Behind Act was unveiled shortly after President Bush took office. At the time, lawmakers and federal education officials discussed the idea of states combining resources to administer the tests. But the federal government shortened the timeline for states to comply with the law, making it difficult for collaboration, said David Shreve, head of the education committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures in Washington, D.C. 

''It's always harder to collaborate on something than doing it yourself," Shreve said. ''It's easier for me to clean my kitchen than to get my 12-year-old daughter to help me out." 

The three states spent all of last year comparing their standards in reading, writing, and math. Their academic standards, fortunately, had a lot of overlap -- the benefits of more than a decade of national education reform. 

The three states are also developing future combined tests for science and a high-school level exam. The US Department of Education is assisting the states with grant money to develop the testing system. 

''It's smart," said Darla Marburger, deputy assistant secretary for policy in the office of elementary and secondary education. ''It makes sense to work together."

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Lawsuit: 4 schools unhealthy

The United Teachers of Dade sued the school district, alleging that it hasn't done enough to address mold and other health concerns at four schools.

BY NIKKI WALLER, Miami Herald, 6/22/04

The United Teachers of Dade filed a lawsuit Monday against the Miami-Dade school district, citing untamed mold growth, airborne fiberglass particles and sewer gas seepage that the union said may have caused health problems for students and teachers.

The circuit-court suit, which does not seek monetary damages, charges that the School Board and outgoing Superintendent Merrett Stierheim responded inadequately to repeated complaints by teachers.

The suit says that if mold, water leakage and rodent problems at four schools are not cleaned up by the end of summer school, the union will seek to have those schools closed under public-nuisance laws.

The schools named in the suit are Lakeview Elementary and Norland Senior High in Northwest Miami-Dade County, Hammocks Middle in West Kendall and North Miami Senior High.

''When the health of teachers and students is involved, you can't move at glacial speed,'' said union chief Mark Richard.

Richard stressed that the UTD is not making medical claims about the mold and other health problems at the schools, but added that the union has been receiving anecdotal complaints from its members since 2001.

`ONGOING ISSUE'

The school district's business chief, Jack Surash, said his office has been working with the union on improving indoor air quality.

''I think we've understood their concerns and continued to work on this issue,'' he said. ``There's not a silver bullet for indoor air quality. It's an ongoing issue, especially in this kind of a climate where you have high humidity.''

At a press conference Monday, teachers from the four schools told of wheezing students and ailing colleagues, some of whom went on disability for respiratory illnesses.

Bobbie Barnwell, a special-education teacher and volleyball coach at North Miami, gingerly pulled her shirt aside to reveal a shiny red scar on her chest from a January operation to remove a rare tumor on her thymus gland. Her doctors, she said, have told her that mold may have caused the growth.

''It was an eye-opener for the school,'' she said. ``I was one of the healthiest people there.''

Lakeview Elementary teacher Nadine Tobgy said she noticed the problem this spring when her second-grade class was moved to a music room for a day. After a few hours, many students' eyes watered and their noses ran.

''They were all running for Kleenex, and mucus was gushing from their noses,'' Tobgy said. As sniffling and nose-blowing continued, ''it began to dawn on me that maybe the mold was having an effect,'' she said.

Photos from Lakeview, displayed at the press conference, showed water damage, brightly colored coronas of mold in classrooms and moldy insulation panels.

David Pollack, an attorney representing the union, said the School Board has been too quick to assume that problems have been adequately addressed.

District spokesman John Schuster said he could not comment because the school attorneys had not seen the suit yet. But he added: ``This is a bit of a surprise. [The UTD] had an opportunity for input.''

PROGRESS REPORTED

Over the last year, Schuster said, the school system has made progress at North Miami High and Hammocks Middle. At North Miami, the oldest school in the system, crews have installed a new roof, air conditioning and duct systems. At Hammocks, a buried tank holding chemicals from science labs -- the source of rancid odors in some classrooms -- has been cleaned and will be capped.

However, a Miami-Dade Health Department report dated April 8 said peeling paint, rodents and rodent droppings still plague the cafeteria and classrooms.

Pam Pedlow, a union organizer and teacher on leave from Norland, said that principals often try to address the problems, but that the urgency falls apart at the district level.

''Principals . . . report the problem to the next person down the chain, and that person reports it to the next and the next,'' she said. ``Where that chain breaks down is still a mystery.''

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Vallejo schools to get $60 million bailout

Charlie Goodyear, San Francisco Chronicle, June 22, 2004

 

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation Monday night that will provide $6o million to the ailing Vallejo school district -- the second largest such bailout in California.

 

Under Senate Bill 1190, the state Superintendent of Public Instruction will assume control of the Vallejo City Unified School District and will appoint an administrator to oversee it.

 

Vallejo's school system, serving 20,000 students, is facing a $20 million deficit, which was first reported by accountants reviewing the district's books in February. Officials said the debt grew after years of miscalculations and overspending. The disclosure prompted the resignation of the district's chief financial officer earlier this year. In March the district's superintendent was ousted as school board officials cut programs in an attempt to save millions of dollars.

 

Vallejo's bailout comes one year after Oakland's schools received a record $100 million loan.

 

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University is seeking to pull charter school's plug

By Jake Wagman of the Post-Dispatch, 6/21/2004

A St. Louis charter school once held up as a model of how a community could come together to offer parents an urban education alternative could soon be shut for mismanagement.

 

Hundreds of students at the school's two campuses could be left in the lurch when the school year begins in the fall.

 

A litany of problems has been revealed in the past year at St. Louis Charter Academies, ranging from nepotism and ineligible students to high faculty turnover and low academic performance.

 

The Post-Dispatch reported in March that a corporation tied to one of the school's founders had a $120,000 contract for marketing services with the school.

 

The University of Missouri at Rolla, which sponsors the school, has sent a notice to the school saying it is seeking to have the charter revoked. The notice outlines a lack of "financial accountability" at the school, including a failure to track enrollment, attendance and transportation records. The school was months late in submitting its required annual audit, which was inconclusive because auditors could not find enough supporting documents.

 

State law allows a sponsor to revoke a charter if the terms of the agreement between the two are violated. Rolla Chancellor Gary Thomas said a member of the university's legal staff told him other issues exist that could be cause for revocation but that the financial problems were the most straightforward.

 

"Hey, that one's the clearest," Thomas said. "Why muddy it up?"

 

In order to revoke a charter, the sponsoring institution must give at least 60 days' notice. If school starts before that period is up, the school may finish that year. The Rolla campus mailed its notice of revocation on Monday, 62 days before the school is scheduled to resume classes. Charter Academies has two weeks to request a hearing before Rolla campus officials. School officials could ask those officials to reconsider. If they refuse, the school could appeal to a judge.

 

In the five years since charter schools have operated in Missouri, only the Kansas City Career Academy has had its charter revoked, said Jocelyn Strand, who heads the state's charter school division. The school lasted a year before filing for bankruptcy.

When the school that would become St. Louis Charter Academies opened in 2001, the coalition of clergy, politicians and educators who backed the school attracted national attention. The Wall Street Journal called the venture "the chance of a lifetime" for St. Louis students.

 

In its first year, the school operated tuition-free, cobbling out an operating budget from federal funds and other sources. Before the year was over, Rolla offered to sponsor the academies as a charter school.

 

Charter schools are public schools that receive state money but are operated by private boards. The St. Louis Charter Academies has campuses at 2012 East Linton Avenue in the College Hill neighborhood and at 7604 Michigan Avenue in the Carondelet neighborhood. The two schools had 617 students this year.

 

Bishop Lawrence M. Wooten, president of the school's board and one of the school's founders, said Monday that he had not received the revocation letter from Rolla. He said he plans to meet with Thomas.

 

"He doesn't have the full picture," said Wooten, pastor at the Williams Temple of the Church of God in Christ on Union Boulevard. Wooten blamed financial reporting problems on the school's management firm being unaware of state procedures.

 

That management company, Arizona-based ABS School Services, filed a lawsuit against the academies on June 3, seeking $275,000 in back payments. A lawyer for the company declined to comment.

 

Connie Schlifer, who has two children at the school's south campus, said parents have not been given notice that the schools might close.

 

"My youngest will just be starting first grade, and he was all looking forward to the new teacher he'd have and seeing his friends again," Schlifer said. "I really don't know what we are going to do."

 

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DISD aims to prevent, not simply deter, student misconduct

By KENT FISCHER, The Dallas Morning News, June 20, 2004

From any computer with Internet access, A. Maceo Smith High School Principal Dwain Govan can log on to his school's network of 16 security cameras and see what's happening on campus.

 

The cameras, Mr. Govan said, have proved to be a deterrent and have helped administrators catch troublemakers in the act. Mr. Govan, however, readily acknowledges that security cameras are not the most effective way to make schools safer.

 

"Many times, [trouble] starts in the neighborhood and they bring it to school," he said of the offenders.

 

"Many times, they don't have a male figure in their lives to talk to. We have to sit them down and counsel them, and we definitely would like to see more parental involvement."

 

As the Dallas Independent School District embarks on an aggressive campaign to tighten school safety, interviews with teachers, administrators and juvenile crime experts indicate Mr. Govan is right.

 

Measures like using metal detectors and drug-sniffing dogs can give parents and teachers a false sense of security. The most effective crime prevention programs don't involve machines, dogs or drug tests.

 

"There's no question that when kids feel connected to the schools and communities, they're significantly less likely to take the wrong path," said Jean O'Neil, the director of Research and Evaluation with the National Crime Prevention Council, which created McGruff the Crime Dog.

 

"We need to treat kids in the context of their schools, neighborhoods and homes, not in a vacuum."

 

That's the primary reason DISD's multifaceted school safety initiative contains a healthy dose of counseling programs, extracurriculars and psychological services. It's also why DISD Superintendent Mike Moses is calling on community groups and their leaders to get involved.

 

"Our schools are not being respected and honored as safe havens for children, and I think that is a community problem," Dr. Moses said. "It appears that priority has slipped away in recent years, and we all must do something about it."

 

Last week, administrators gave district trustees some startling information regarding campus crime from the recently concluded school year. The numbers were eye-popping: Aggravated assaults were up 33 percent; burglaries up 75 percent; and student assaults on faculty members up 53 percent.

 

"This is frightening," trustee Hollis Brashear said when he saw the statistics Wednesday.

 

'They get belligerent'

 

Most senior classes leave their schools a gift after graduation, like a new marquee or scoreboard for the gym.

 

A rash of break-ins in the student parking lot at Bryan Adams High School spurred the Class of 2004 to make a more practical gift: security cameras.

 

Bryan Adams teacher Diane Birdwell said it's not so much the headline-grabbing crimes that wear down teachers and morale. Those crimes are relatively rare. Instead, it's the near-constant confrontations with disrespectful and defiant students that teachers have the hardest time with.

 

"If I tell a kid to move along or to do something, they get belligerent," Ms. Birdwell said. "Verbal assaults are an everyday occurrence. If I called Dr. Moses what kids call me, I'd be fired on the spot. Now, why do I have to take that?"

 

Ms. Birdwell said educators simply want to be able to kick disruptive students out of class and have them land in a program that will help them straighten out and deter them from continued troublemaking. Many teachers feel that those programs don't exist, so they quickly tire of fighting the everyday battles, she said.

 

"If they would put teeth and painful consequences on both the kid and the parents ... that would be a deterrent," she said. "But I see very little rehabilitation, very little help from the community. We're begging parents to wake up and see what their kids are up to."

 

Teacher Hobie Hukill said teachers are frustrated because they don't always get what they say they need from administrators when confronting habitual troublemakers. In short, teachers have a hard time kicking a kid out of class because there's no other place for the student to go – the district's alternative schools are filled to capacity with serious offenders.

 

"We have to be a heck of a lot more aggressive in nailing these kids early," Mr. Hukill said. "If they're allowed to thumb their noses, then you're asking for chaos. It snowballs."

 

Chief's view

 

When DISD Police Chief Manuel Vasquez dissected the district's end-of-the-year crime reports, he noted that serious offenses – like aggravated assaults and weapons incidents – made up only about 1 percent of the total reports. The real spike, he said, was in classroom disruptions and misconduct – the kinds of things Ms. Birdwell cited.

 

But getting kids to change those behaviors means starting young and often taking on roles that once were left to parents.

 

"We need to teach them how to make good decisions, and we need to build their character," Chief Vasquez said. "Enforcement is not the answer; intervention is. We need to refocus."

 

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Gas Prices May Mean Fewer School Buses or Higher Fees

Unanticipated rise in the price of fuel forces districts to make unpopular decisions

By Joy Buchanan and David Haldane, Times Staff Writers, 6/21/04

 

Already suffering from state budget cuts, many California school districts have been caught unaware by a new financial problem: high gasoline prices.

 

As a result, experts say, school officials are faced with either cutting bus service or passing increased costs on to parents, many of whom already pay hefty fees.

 

"You're going to see a whole gamut of districts [increasing] fees," said Bob Austin, a spokesman for the California Department of Education's Office of Transportation. "That's an option. You'll have others that reduce the service. Others will just bite the bullet and take the money from somewhere else."

 

Such is the case in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the state's largest, where a $500,000 budget deficit this year — mainly due to increased fuel costs — has forced district officials to postpone long-planned purchases of transportation equipment and supplies. "It wasn't something we saw coming," said Anthony Rodriguez, transportation director.

 

Gas prices In California have gone up 62% in the last year to about $2.32 per gallon, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.

 

"It's been quite a sudden spike," said Rodriguez, whose district has spent more than $4 million on fuel this year to transport 75,000 students a day, mostly to magnet schools, for free.

 

Though California doesn't require districts to provide home-to-school transportation, except for special-needs students, Austin said, most districts offer it as a convenience for parents and to keep kids safe on their way to and from school.

 

Even in the best of times, he said, student transportation generally loses money.

 

And when gas prices go up, he said, smaller school districts — including about 65% of those in California — often feel the pinch most acutely because transportation costs comprise a larger portion of their budgets and they lack the buying power to negotiate long-term purchase contracts at bulk rates.

 

Thus Hemet Unified School District, a medium-sized school district in a rural area of Riverside County, has spent more than $320,000 on bus fuel so far this year, well above the $240,000 in its budget.

 

The district is considering reducing the number of routes from 62 to 58 next year to help offset the costs. "It's hurting," said Michael Fogerty, transportation director. "We just have to be as efficient as possible."

 

And at Orange County's Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District, administrators hope to cut costs by deferring non-critical maintenance of some buses and by staggering school starting times to cover the district using fewer vehicles. The district transports about 2,700 students daily in 25 buses and is likely to spend $200,000 — $65,000 more than budgeted — this fiscal year on fuel and upkeep.

 

The district is taking what some consider another drastic step as well: raising the price of school bus passes for the first time since 1997. The cost will double, from $180 to $360 a year. "It was either that or the classrooms," said Steve Umber, transportation director. "We've really [delayed] this as long as we could."

 

The move has angered some parents, who say they may switch to their cars.

 

"It's going to force us to change our work schedules," said Kirsten Bowman, who plans to get up earlier next fall to drive her children to school. "We're not happy about it at all."

 

Besides the personal inconvenience, said Bowman, a lawyer for the California Department of Transportation, the change will hurt the environment.

 

"This will increase traffic on the roadway and go against everything the state is trying to do in terms of congestion relief, cars on the road and preserving resources," she said.

 

Greg Stratton, a member of the Simi Valley Unified board, which serves more than 21,000 students in eastern Ventura County, said he expects his district to be forced to raise bus fees. "Definitely they're going to go up," he said. "How much is the question."

 

Stratton said the school board had already requested a survey on how to deal with rising costs, the results of which are due soon. "We're looking at raising fees [and] cutbacks on routes without enough riders," he said.

 

And Conejo Valley Unified will be able to hold the line, but only because of a contract that ties gas price increases to a local cost-of-living index.

 

"Our costs only go up about 2, 2 1/2% a year," said Debbie Beauford, a transportation specialist. "It looks as if we'll be able to continue as we have been."

 

Austin says that few issues inspire a more passionate response from parents than when school districts tamper with transportation.

 

"Every time somebody raises or institutes new fees," he said, "our phones start ringing. Parents are upset."

 

School officials in Yorba Linda predict that student bus ridership in their district could be reduced by as much as 15% due to the looming price hike.

 

This doesn't surprise Bowman. "What they're doing," she said, "is forcing parents to bear the burden. We don't think that's fair."

 

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Fitness Classes Fall Short in Many Schools, Panel Says

By ASHLEI N. STEVENS, New York Times, June 22, 2004

 

New York City is failing to provide regular physical education classes in many of its elementary, middle and high schools, in violation of state law, according to a report released yesterday by the City Council's Education Committee.

 

A 2001 survey found that 41 percent of elementary schools and 23 percent of high schools did not provide regular physical education classes, the report says. It also states that 55 percent of elementary schools either have no playgrounds or cannot use them while 62 percent of middle and high schools do not have a weight room.

 

"I think we're shortchanging kids who have a variety of talents, whether it's in the arts or music or in athletics," said Eva S. Moskowitz, the chairwoman of the committee, who said her panel had worked for the last six months compiling information on the lack of sports and physical education.

 

Officials agreed that many schools lacked adequate facilities, teachers and programs, though they could not provide exact numbers.

 

"For years in this system, we've neglected fitness and physical education," said Lester W. Young Jr., senior executive for youth development and school-community services at the Department of Education. "It's taken a back seat to the other curriculums." He said the schools needed more space and facilities, as well as trained staff.

 

According to the report, the Department of Education has proposed spending an additional $338 million in capital funds for physical education in its five-year plan beginning in 2005, up from the $3.1 million now allotted in the 2000-04 plan.

 

Ms. Moskowitz said the increase would be a step forward but significantly below the $992 million the City Council estimated that it would take to update facilities in its own 2003 report on the subject.

 

Ms. Moskowitz's report also recommended reducing the size of physical education classes, which often have as many as 50 students each. It also calls for offering tax breaks to organizations that lend recreational space to the schools.

 

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District's $30 million art trove stirs debate

Phila. schools have had the treasures for years. Principals and parents worry about district plans.

By Susan Snyder, Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer, 6/22/04

 

Philadelphia's public schools are a treasure trove of art worth up to $30 million, estimates have shown, and district officials are thinking about putting those assets to work.

 

But school district efforts to inventory the collection, conserve damaged pieces, even offer works for gallery exhibition have angered school administrators and parents, who want their art back.

 

The collection, much of it dating to the dawn of the 20th century through the 1920s and 1930s, is spread throughout many of the district's 264 schools.

 

There are watercolors by Paul Remy, a painting by African American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner, landscape and wilderness scenes by Bucks County impressionists, including Walter Baum.

 

In a sweeping effort, the School Reform Commission has hired experts to inventory the art in every school and remove damaged pieces and those in danger of being stolen. The commission is considering creating a traveling show, publishing a book, printing cards and calendars, or possibly opening a gallery at its headquarters, which could charge admission, said James Nevels, School Reform Commission chairman.

 

So far, more than 100 pieces have been removed from 40 schools, some art found in closets, damaged and unappreciated.

 

"They found things worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in boiler rooms," one high-ranking district source said.

 

The district plans to restore the art and secure it.

 

While several officials said the cash-strapped district was not planning to sell the art, Nevels would not rule it out.

 

"The disposition of the artwork will be examined by the SRC," he said last night. "It could include a myriad of things, including the sale. That is one of several options or combination of options."

 

The project, which has largely been conducted in secret for more than a year, has created a stir in the schools.

 

At Woodrow Wilson Middle School in Northeast Philadelphia, nothing but bare wires and hooks hangs in the marble foyer, where portraits of presidents and other paintings by a Bucks County artist once were displayed. It looks like little Cindy Lou Who's living room after the Grinch stole Christmas.

 

Over the winter break, district workers removed the paintings and told the staff that the art would be restored and returned. The foyer is still bare, and parents and teachers are skeptical.

 

"This is a part of our school, a part of our heritage," said Robyn Sims, 2004-05 president of Wilson's Home and School Association. "I just don't want them to be sold or not get back to us."

 

The art is property of the district, which is responsible for securing and protecting it, Nevels said.

 

The district has about 1,200 pieces of art, about 400 of which are particularly valuable, said Paul Vallas, chief executive officer.

 

"We've brought experts in to assess its value, stamp it, restore it, with an eye toward returning it to the school," he said.

 

At Wilson, a Tanner, purchased in 1937 for $35, hangs in the principal's office. Each floor of the four-story school is lined with paintings, many of them nature scenes by Bucks County impressionists of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, including Baum, Walter Schofield and Henry B. Snell. Many pieces had been donated by alumni since Wilson opened in 1928. The school has one of the most extensive and well-cared-for collections in the district.

 

The district, aided by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the University of Pennsylvania Museum, has moved the paintings and sculptures from Wilson and the other schools, said chief of staff Natalye Paquin.

 

Vallas said money had been appropriated to secure the art; he would not say how much.

 

Paquin said the district was establishing an arts advisory council, which, among other tasks, would be charged with how to raise money to help pay for the art's restoration.

 

In Chicago, a similar effort in the public schools conducted by Paquin and Vallas when they worked there cost $3 million to $4 million.

 

Paquin said she was not sure how much the Philadelphia project would cost. "Philadelphia has a lot less money," she said. "Philadelphia has a lot more art. The restoration project will be a larger project, so we really don't know."

 

At Wilson, Paquin said the art had been removed from the foyer because it had been exposed to potential weather damage and was not secure. The district is looking for ways to safely return it. But that might not happen at Wilson or other schools until the 2005-06 year. The project, which began more than a year ago, likely will take three years, she said.

 

At Frankford High, principal Richard Mantell is unhappy with the secrecy. When he returned from winter break, district officials had ordered a locksmith to enter his office to take unframed watercolors, donated to the school by artist Paul Remy, a 1930s Frankford graduate.

 

"You'd think it was like a jewel heist," said Mantell, who said he was irked that the district has not disclosed plans for the art.

 

"I'd just like some information, and I have 300 or 400 alumni who are really interested, too. It really stinks. It has stunk up the joint from day one since they broke into the office."

 

Paquin said the district had tried to reach Mantell and his assistant before entering. She also said the project needed to be done in secret for security. District officials have heard about art disappearing from the schools in the past, she said.

 

"We really didn't have a process in place for controlling our assets. That's what this project is really about," she said.

 

At Wilson, 19 pieces are missing, but that occurred more than a decade ago and there has not been a problem since, said Pat Gray, Home and School Association president for 2003-04.

 

Wilson has kept an extensive record of its paintings. The first principal of Wilson was an art lover and a friend of Baum's who negotiated good prices, she said. Some painting frames crafted by nationally known Doylestown artist Frederick William Harer (1879-1948) are worth more than the actual paintings, Gray said.

 

Art experts have told parents that Wilson has a collection that rivals those of museums, she said. The school once lent its 1891 Tanner painting - A Horse and Two Dogs and a Landscape - to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

 

Principal Jim McMillan said he is asked regularly about the missing paintings. Portraits of Woodrow Wilson, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and two paintings by Baum were among those taken by the district.

 

"My community is in an uproar," he said. "It's like ripping the hearts out of a school when you take something that has been there for so long."

 

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Parents take schools to task

By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY, 6/21/04

 

It's too soon to tell whether President Bush's sweeping school reform law will improve the nation's public education system, but nearly 2 years after Bush signed No Child Left Behind, a new survey shows that public perceptions of schools are changing — sometimes for the worse — and that education could be a powerful election-year issue.

 

In the survey released today by the Educational Testing Service, the world's largest private educational research organization, the nation's public schools take a bit of a beating at the hands of parents, while the general public remains largely unmoved.

 

The percentage of parents who give U.S. public schools a grade of A has dropped from 8% in 2001 to 2% today, and only 20% of parents give schools a B, down from 35%. Meanwhile, 45% of parents give schools a C, up from 33% in 2001.

 

Congress approved No Child Left Behind in 2001; Bush signed it in January 2002. The centerpiece of Bush's education agenda, it imposes strict testing requirements on public schools and demands that the number of students whose test scores show they can read and do math at grade level improve each year. If schools don't pass muster, they risk being labeled "in need of improvement."

 

About 32% of schools now fall into that category.

 

According to the new survey, public schools actually rose slightly in the eyes of adults in general since 2001; a few more adults gave schools a B and fewer gave them a C. The percentage who gave schools a D or F was unchanged. As in 2001, only 2% now give schools an A.

 

The survey also found that the public is split evenly on the merits of the law: 39% have a favorable opinion, 38% unfavorable.

 

That suggests both Bush and presumptive Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry could benefit from campaigning on — or against — the law, says Les Francis, a testing service spokesman.

 

"The president can clearly take credit, in political terms, for having really pushed this issue further on to the national agenda and to have his bill identified with reform," he says.

 

For Kerry's purposes, he says, "the fact that there's a significant level of disenchantment" with the law gives Kerry a chance to "hammer away."

 

The favorable/unfavorable figures hold steady across political affiliations and even within battleground states, Francis says.

 

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Paige: Federal law makes education accessible to all

Pam Easton, Star Telegram 

PRAIRIE VIEW, Texas - U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige said Tuesday that the No Child Left Behind Act sets out to rectify problems not addressed in the historic Supreme Court decision that desegregated schools. 

"We still have two worlds," Paige said, addressing the 10th annual Prairie View A&M University Educational Leadership Academy luncheon. "But these two worlds are not divided ... because one world is black and one world is white. This world is ... divided by the level of educational quality certain people have." 

The federal education reforms, known as No Child Left Behind, give students the ability to choose and attend higher performing schools, and is the centerpiece of President Bush's domestic agenda. 

The reforms are considered the most significant since 1965. The law sets out to ensure all minorities and poor children can read and do math at grade level by 2014. It requires districts to identify schools with weak reading and math test scores and begin applying sanctions if the scores do not improve. 

In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in a case, known as Brown v. Board of Education, that schools separated on the basis of race were unequal and unconstitutional because they created a status of inferiority among minorities. 

"What we have learned is it doesn't matter where you are sitting if what goes on in the classroom isn't up to snuff," Paige said. "So that is why we have to make sure that every single child has a highly qualified teacher." 

Getting qualified teachers into classrooms, however, takes money, said Tom Kiley, spokesman for U.S. Rep. George Miller, D.-Calif., the ranking Democrat on the Education Committee. Miller helped get the education reforms passed and is among the supporters of No Child Left Behind. 

"It really is ultimately about civil rights," Kiley said. "It really is about ensuring education for all children." 

But Kiley said the No Child Left Behind Act has been underfunded by $27 billion since it was enacted in 2002 and Republicans are shifting the focus from criticism that the program hasn't been properly implemented or funded. 

"The Bush administration is doing things that basically undermine the bill," he said. "In school districts across America, people are doing the best they can in complying with the law, but their efforts are frustrated." 

Paige said business communities in some large urban cities are supporting the reforms and that educational funding has been increased 36 percent by the Bush administration since the president took office. 

"One of the greatest barriers to closing the achievement gap is making excuses about different reasons why we cannot," Paige said. 

He said funding has been increased to support the reforms and that the government now approaches the funding as "an investment rather than just a gift." 

Jeri Stone, executive director of the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, said the efforts to close the achievement gap between white and minority students seems to be working. 

"It shines a light in every single corner ... to ensure that every child is receiving an equal benefit," she said. 

But the one-size fits all approach of the federal and state reforms strip classrooms of creativity, said Texas State Teachers Association President Donna Haschke. 

"No Child Left Behind is not the be-all and the end-all that it is purported to be," she said. "All children can learn, but they learn differently." 

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Report: 10 percent of high school teachers not 'highly qualified'

Tom Bell, Associated Press, Newsday 

TRENTON, N.J. -- Ten percent of teachers in the state's middle and high schools do not meet federal government standards of being "highly qualified," according to a report released Tuesday.  

The lowest scores in New Jersey were for special education teachers in secondary schools, where only about 76 percent reached the highly qualified standard.  

More than 96 percent of teachers in the state's elementary public schools did meet the definition set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.  

All teachers must meet the standard for the subjects they teach by the 2005-06 school year under the federal act. They are required to demonstrate expertise by passing an exam in the subject they teach, earning 30 undergraduate credits in the subject, holding an undergraduate or graduate degree in the subject, or holding advanced professional credentials.  

State education officials have been critical of the No Child Left Behind Act and said parents should be aware that the latest figures on teachers were based solely on the federal requirements.  

"It has little to do with the quality of a teacher's performance in the classroom," said William Librera, education commissioner.  

He said half the teachers who did not meet the highly qualified standard overall did meet it for at least one of the subjects they teach. Librera said the high number of teachers who did meet the standard demonstrated that the state's own tough requirements were working.  

"New Jersey has set its own very high standards for our teachers for the past 20 years," he said. "We have to make sure that the small percentage of teachers that has not yet attained the specific, content-related credentials required under law has every opportunity to do so."  

Librera and Gov. James E. McGreevey have criticized the system of judging schools put in place by the No Child Left Behind Act, a Bush administration effort to raise teaching standards nationwide.  

Last year it was determined that 75 percent of the state's high schools, 49 percent of its middle schools and one-third of its elementary schools did not meet the act's standards.  

New Jersey Education Association officials said Tuesday that the number of New Jersey teachers that met the standard probably would be much higher than in most other states.  

"This is probably proof that New Jersey has been doing a terrific job as far as credentialing," said Steve Wollmer, spokesman for the teachers union. "I think the federal Department of Education will look at us as a success story."  

Jane Glickman, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education, said comparisons to New Jersey were not available since numbers for individual states had not been compiled yet by the agency because schools do not have to be in compliance until next year.  

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Meeting NCLB mandate / Charlotte Observer (NC)The feds should provide money to meet education needs

Charlotte Observer Opinion, Jun 24, 2004  

So, what is a federal mandate? It depends on what your definition of "is" is. That's the kind of slickness imbedded in the assessment from the General Accounting Office (GAO) that the No Child Left Behind Act is not a mandated financial burden on states.

 

According to the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, NCLB can't be classified as a mandate because under the 1995 federal Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (UMRA) the NCLB requirements were simply "a condition of federal financial assistance." States don't have to follow those requirements. But if they don't, they won't get federal funding.

 

Yes, the GAO, admits, state and local governments could incur significant costs in meeting NCLB guidelines. But, the agency ruled, the law cannot be legally defined as an unfunded mandate because states have a choice -- comply with guidelines and get federal money or reject the guidelines and give up federal money.

 

NCLB zealots happily hopped on the ruling as vindication that the law is adequately funded and that those who say differently are simply making excuses for not doing the work to provide every child with a quality education. Hogwash. The GAO report proves nothing more than the inadequacy of the legal definition of an unfunded federal mandate. Indeed, the GAO report makes no attempt to address whether the law is adequately funded. The agency is simply interpretating whether the law qualifies as a federal mandate.

 

States continue to view NCLB as an unfunded mandate, and with good reason. The law requires states to do a number of things, including regular testing, tutoring, providing every child a highly-qualified teacher, moving children on request from low-performing schools to higher performing ones. All have significant costs associated with them. The Bush administration has boosted the federal dollars for education. But the money is significantly less than the administration promised when NCLB became law.

 

The lofty goals of No Child Left Behind are worthy, and we must continue doing what needs to be done to make the words more than political rhetoric. That means Congress and the federal government should stop debating semantics and provide the necessary money to address the problems that are hindering children from achieving.

 

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Federal education funds could be slashed in 2006 / Beauregard Daily News (LA)

By staff reports, Beauregard Daily News, 6/24/04

 

BATON ROUGE -- Less than a month after the Louisiana Legislature urged the federal government to keep its promise and properly fund education, reports have surfaced that the Bush administration plans instead to cut Louisiana's share of education funds by some $23 million in the as-yet unwritten 2006 budget.

 

"Where funding for our schools is concerned, there is a disconnect between the administration's rhetoric and its record," said Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan. "Once again, we see promises to our children broken in the shadow of a law that pledges to leave no child behind."

 

As reported in a May 27 article in The Washington Post, all federal agencies are on notice that they will be expected to drastically cut the budget in the fiscal year following the presidential election. Budget guidelines in a memo unearthed by The Post ask the Department of Education to cut its discretionary spending by $1.5 billion. For Louisiana, according to an analysis based on The Post's article, this would mean $23 million less to provide education in our already cash-strapped schools.

 

The loss would hit Louisiana hard, coming on the heels of a year in which the federal government failed to provide all the money promised by Congress when it passed the No Child Left Behind act. In the proposed budget for the 2005 fiscal year, which is now under debate in Congress, the administration shortchanges NCLB's Title 1 - which is targeted for disadvantaged students - by some $6.7 billion. The budget shortfall for Louisiana amounts to $164.4 million.

 

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School lunch bill handed to Bush

Reuters, June 25, 2004  

WASHINGTON -- About 50,000 poor children would receive free school meals under a child nutrition bill passed by the House and sent to President Bush for enactment. 

The child nutrition bill, passed Thursday, extends for five years the school lunch program, the Women, Infants and Children program and a bundle of other programs that jointly cost about $16 billion a year. 

The Senate passed the legislation Wednesday. Bush is expected to sign the bill into law, according to legislative aides. 

Under the bill, children would automatically qualify for free meals if their families receive food stamps. This move was estimated to add 50,000 children to school lunch lines. 

Other changes reduce the amount of paperwork that parents must file so their children are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. The changes will mean "many tens of thousands of children" will receive school meals, said Jim Weill, head of the lobbying group Food Research and Action Center. 

Lawmakers and anti-hunger groups hailed the rare moment of bipartisan agreement during a congressional session filled with acrimony. 

"Here, we have made major improvements," said Rep. George Miller, California Democrat. 

The federal school lunch program provides hot meals to about 27 million American children every day. Nearly 60 percent of the children get the meals for free or at a reduced price. Eleven million children are enrolled in school breakfast, after school snack and summer meal programs. 

More than 7.6 million people are enrolled in the Women, Infants and Children program, which provides supplemental food to poor pregnant women, new mothers and infants. 

The bill would also renew two popular pilot programs. One eases bookkeeping rules for summer food programs. The other provides free fruits and vegetables to schoolchildren to encourage them to adopt healthier eating habits. 

The summer food pilot program operates in 13 states and would expand to Colorado, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio and Oregon in 2005. The fruit and vegetable pilot, now in four states and the Zuni Pueblo, would expand to three additional states and two Indian reservations in 2004-2005 school year. 

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Professors: Some math teachers unprepared

By MEGAN HAWKINS, Des Moines Register Staff Writer, June 25, 2004  

Weak state standards are allowing under-prepared math teachers into Iowa's middle and high school classrooms, according to some university professors pushing for more stringent requirements. 

"We had received not an untrivial number of horror stories about students trying to get licensed in the state with woefully inadequate records in mathematics," said Robert Keller , assistant professor of mathematics at Loras College in Dubuque. 

"Math in general is not the most well-liked subject, especially after middle school," Keller said. "If you get teachers not prepared trying to deal with students not generally enamored with the subject, that's not a good scenario." 

Today, the state Board of Educational Examiners will consider strengthening Iowa's licensing standards for seventh- through 12th-grade math teachers. The proposed changes would require prospective math teachers to take more challenging math classes. 

New standards would also be similar to requirements at Iowa colleges and universities, said Catherine Miller , associate math professor at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. 

If approved, the standards would become effective Sept. 1, 2005.

Sharon Ash , a West Des Moines mother and substitute teacher, applauds efforts to ensure that teachers are well-prepared to teach math. She said math can be an especially difficult subject for students to grasp. 

"Algebra was tricky for one of my sons, and we struggled with it," Ash said. "We've been lucky to have great teachers, but there should be criteria - strong, not weak - for teachers. If educators are suggesting these changes, who would know best other than they?"

Some professors worry that Iowa's shortage of math teachers is prompting prospective teachers to rush through the state's course requirements. To earn a license, they may take the state's more general - and less demanding - required coursework rather than going through a college program, which takes more time. 

Many of the teachers cutting corners have already gone through other training, either out of state or in another subject area, and want to acquire a math teaching endorsement quickly, the professors said. 

Supporters of the changes said the new guidelines would ensure that all math teachers, whether they go through accredited Iowa teaching programs or apply for a license independently, have a deep understanding of mathematics. 

"The (state) licensure requirements for high school math teachers don't represent what we wanted them to know," Miller said. 

"A student could take college algebra, which is not really much more than the intermediate algebra taught in high school, for example. Math majors take median, abstract or linear algebra, which give them the underlying theory of why high school algebra works. It goes much deeper." 

Secondary math teachers graduating from accredited Iowa teaching programs must take the same courses as math majors, Miller said. State requirements are less stringent.

Math scores among Iowa high school students have wavered in recent years, Iowa Tests of Educational Development data show. Educators said for students to do well in math, knowledgeable teachers are needed. Officials in some Iowa school districts are working to expand the teachers' skills in teaching math. 

In Des Moines, for example, all teachers in 2004-05 will receive training on teaching math, said Ed Pilkington , the district's math and science administrator. The training is a departure from past years, when improving reading instruction was emphasized. 

According to the 2000 Glenn Commission Report, a nationwide study of math and science education, student achievement in science and math is directly linked to the teacher's understanding of material. 

"Merely being able to keep one chapter ahead of the students in an algebra or environmental science text does not a mathematics or science teacher make," the report said. 

To earn an Iowa license, math teachers must complete 24 hours of coursework in five areas of mathematics. The guidelines have been in place since 1988. 

The more stringent state requirements are supported by 23 of 25 Iowa colleges and universities surveyed by the math professors. 

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School's woes mean vouchers for students

A second F grade by Eastside Multicultural qualifies students for funds to learn elsewhere.

By MELANIE AVE, St. Petersburg Times Staff Writer, June 25, 2004 

TAMPA - The state Department of Education handed the Eastside Multicultural Community School its second F grade Thursday, making it the first school in the Tampa Bay area to receive two years of failing grades. 

The F grade came two days after the Hillsborough County School Board voted to close the charter school for poor student performance and allegations of cheating on standardized tests. 

By receiving a second F, Eastside becomes the first school in the area whose students now qualify for vouchers through the Opportunity Scholarship program. They can take the vouchers, worth about $3,900, to a private school or a better public school. The state has instructed school boards to close charter schools that receive double F grades. 

The failing grade essentially validates the School Board's earlier vote to terminate the school's contract, which stunned school officials and some parents. The school can appeal the contract termination by July 7 to the state Board of Education. 

"We have been working to review the entire matter," said Eastside attorney Warren Dawson. "We'll continue to work in that regard. I'm not sure of the motive or the reason for the grade. 

"At some point in time, the state believed the grade could be a D." 

Education department spokesman MacKay Jimeson said Eastside's failing grade was based on test scores from fourth- and fifth-graders, which were combined with Hillsborough's average for the third grade. The district average was used since the state threw out all of Eastside's third-grade scores, which were inconsistently high and, the state said, possibly indicated cheating. 

During a subsequent investigation, several students told officials their teachers pointed to the right answers on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, which is used to calculate grades. 

School officials were under pressure to improve their test scores after last year's F grade. 

"We are holding these schools accountable," Jimeson said. "Charter schools are great options for parents and students, when they're working." 

However, based on last year's F grade and this year's results at Eastside, "It doesn't look like progress," he said. 

"The school has not provided evidence of improved student achievement or demonstrated an increase in student performance over prior years," wrote Education Commissioner Jim Horne in a letter to Hillsborough superintendent Earl Lennard. 

Hillsborough School Board vice-chairwoman Candy Olson said she was not surprised by the F grade since local testing officials had estimated Eastside could get a "high F or a low D." Charter schools are public schools, but they are run by independent boards. 

Eastside, which opened in 1997, was one of Hillsborough's first three charter schools. With 177 students, it offered multicultural education in kindergarten through Grade 5 to east Tampa children. 

Most of its students are African-American children from low-income families. 

The school district sent letters to all of the children's parents Thursday telling them that Eastside will be closed. The children may attend their neighborhood school, another charter school or a private school using a voucher. 

The Opportunity Scholarship program, one of three state voucher programs, began in 1999 with the goal of giving parents an alternative to failing schools. The state has two other voucher programs, one for disabled students and the other for low-income children. 

The district has scheduled a special tutoring program for Eastside students from July 12 through July 23, believing the students learned little at the charter school. 

The School Board is also accepting "emergency" charter school applications from organizations that want to serve Eastside's displaced students. 

Still, Eastside parent Trennis Randolph, whose wife is a board member of the charter school, is angry about the school's closing. He said he doesn't think the School Board has proven Eastside teachers cheated on state tests. 

"Show me proof of cheating, then I can handle it," said Randolph, who has twin sons at the school. "I haven't seen proof." 

He said he is unsure where his sons will attend school when the new year begins Aug. 5, but he's hopeful Eastside can keep its doors open through appeals. 

"I still have hope," he said. "I think justice will prevail." 

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